Target Balls

Glass Target Balls

Modern day skeet target shooting, in which the shooter uses a shotgun to attempt to hit a clay disk (a pigeon) launched into the air at some distance, has its origins in the late nineteenth century. Prior to that time these events used thousands and thousands of live birds, usually pigeons, for their targets. Beginning in about 1876 a scarcity of birds and a growing social sense that this type of slaughter wasn’t desirable led to the development of glass target balls.

For a brief decade these colorful glass globes, about 3 inches in diameter – about the size of a baseball, were the shooting targets of choice, especially in the circus, exhibitions and Wild West shows. The hollow balls, made in both the U.S. and Europe, came in a wide variety of colors and were almost always embossed with an all over design and frequently featured it’s manufacturer’s name and advertising.

These glass orbs were launched by a device called a trap (a source of the name ‘trap shooting’), a simple wood and iron device using a spring to literally fling the ball into the air. Typically the target ball was launched filled with feathers which filled the air when the ball was successfully hit; noted shooter Annie Oakley is reported to have stuffed silk streamers inside some of hers.

At the height of their use circa 1880 millions of these balls were produced each year and sold for a penny a piece. New York’s Bohemian Glass Works alone was turning them out at an annual rate of 2.5 million. Today collectors will pay a hundred dollars for a common blue or amber and tens of thousands of dollars for great rarities.

Beginning about 1885 clay disks came into increasing use because they presented a more natural target ‘in flight’ and didn’t scatter broken glass all over the ground. The brief age of glass target balls was over and the dawn of a new collecting specialty had arrived.

Reference note by p4A editorial staff; 2010.

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